“Architecture is the thoughtful making of space.”
Louis Kahn said that, which is an interesting thing for an architect to say. If I’d been asked, I would have said that architecture was about making buildings. Beautiful buildings, but buildings nonetheless.
Apparently a lot of people think so because if you google Louis Kahn, he’s described as being an architect and a professor “renowned for his weighty buildings and use of heavy materials.”
But here’s a picture:
It seems that if you’re describing the structure of Kahn’s work, what you focus on is the walls. But if you’re experiencing Kahn’s work, what you notice is the space. Kahn might have used bold lines and heavy materials but the bold lines and heavy materials weren’t the point. Space was the point.
Our spiritual lives might benefit from the same wisdom.
So often when we think about crafting meaningful spiritual practices, we think about the walls. We think about praying a certain way or at a certain time. We think about eating certain foods or avoiding certain foods. We think about resting and working and playing at certain times.
Which all sounds like a bunch of rigid rules.
This is a particular critique of religion, isn’t it? I’ve heard it–you have too. The argument goes that all the rules of religion are designed for social control. Truth be told, religion has often been a powerful way to keep people in line. Fundamentalist viewpoints of all kinds masterfully manipulate religion to control people. I can’t deny that and I think it’s a worthwhile cautionary reminder.
But spiritual practices in and of themselves aren’t the problem. The problem is when we start paying more attention to the walls than to the space they create. On paper, spiritual practices might look like a bunch of rules designed to pen us in. In practice, they create room in which we can connect to our truest selves.
I’ve been working on a project exploring spirituality in the modern world and I’m discovering that this is the difference between people who have spiritual practices and people who don’t: people and families who make time for ritual do it because they focus on the life-giving aspect of it. They have fun with it. They joke and laugh when something goes wrong. In contrast, the ones who struggle, whether it’s with trying to start a family prayer time, or committing to a faith community, or starting a meditation practice, seem to be focused on the walls. They’re worried about finding the time, or doing it right, or whether it’s the “right” practice/church/tradition for them.
I can’t discount those concerns. It’s not easy to make time or build new habits–if it was, the diet and exercise industry in America wouldn’t be the huge machine it is. So I don’t want to be flippant or cliche here but the more I talk to folks, the more I realize that the problem isn’t so much the time, it’s the focus. We spend a lot of time looking at the walls themselves and much less time looking at the space they create. For sure, beginning or deepening your spiritual practice will require putting up some boundaries around your time. But what it will give you is a whole new room in your soul.
In the interest of finding some room of my own, this year I’m focusing this blog on spiritual practices in today’s world. That’s not so much because I have all of the answers and want to share them with you (go me!) it’s because I’m increasingly curious about how folks are tapping into their spiritual side. I’m inspired by my not-particularly religious friends who craft lovely ceremonies for their home. Or my interfaith friends who are blending religious traditions. Or my religious friends who are figuring out how to do be Christian even though the church no longer feels like home to them. There is a wealth of wisdom out there. And of course, I bring my own lens to all of this, as someone who is steeped in Christian tradition and finds it life-giving and beautiful (but is married to a non-religious type, so there’s that.)
Here’s how I’m shaping the year:
January: The Why and How month–what’s a spiritual practice, why do we care, are they just for religious folks, are they just for non-religious folks…
February: Food and the Spirit–does what we eat influence our spirituality? Does our spirituality impact what we eat? How do we craft rituals for mealtimes and why are they so powerful?
March: Forgiveness–sure, it’s a value in many religious traditions but how do we actually practice that? What if it’s hard? Are we really supposed to “forgive and forget?”
April: Silence–No, really, how do we make time for quiet?
May: Blessing–What is a blessing? Are we “blessed?” Is this just another word for a gift or an act of service, like “I blessed someone by giving them a hot meal?”
June: Sabbath–Oh, you mean that crazy rule about resting once a day? Who has time for that? If I can’t set aside a whole day to sit around, how do I it?
July: Service–Service opportunities are the thing people want most from their church, which tells me that it’s helping people connect to God. How? Why?
August: Gratitude–wait, what? You’re not saving this for November? No, because I want explore it outside the context of the obligatory “month of gratitude.” And maybe it’ll help set us up for some rituals you can implement in November when we have cultural momentum on your side.
September: Creativity–how does creativity connect us to God? Does it always connect us to God? What are the limits of claiming creativity as a “spiritual practice?” Do I have to be creating something religious for it to count? Are all artists spiritual?
October: Giving–Again, not in the logical month of December and again, because I think I’ll delve more deeply into this outside of “the giving season.” And yes, let’s look at some practices that will set us up for December.
November: Sacred texts–So the Bible isn’t a literal history. Why do people read it? Is it any holier than other religious books? What about non-religious books? And how should we use this confusing book?
December: Open space–here’s where I either revisit some themes that could use some more time, do a “best of” section or maybe just take a break. I don’t know yet but time will tell!
Being a personal blog, I reserve the right to throw some random musings in there from time to time. That is, after all, the beauty of the space. But these themes will provide some walls for my own spiritual practice of writing so they’ll be my main focus. I’ll keep these posts in the handy-dandy new tab I’ve created called: Rhythms and Rituals. As always, I’m looking forward to hearing from you about the ways you’re making spiritual space.